The need for a process of national reconciliation in Ireland

Sinn Féin has recently launched a public initiative on the need for a process of national reconciliation in Ireland.
Addressing a meeting in the Houses of Commons on 24 October Sinn Féin chairperson, Declan Kearney explained the initiative. His speech included the following points:


‘British colonial interests and successive government policy have been at the root of political conflict in Ireland, and between our countries for centuries.

British government strategy and its threat of ‘immediate and terrible war’ in the period of the 1921 negotiations after the Tan War was the midwife for the Irish Civil War, and the catalyst for partition.
That led to the onset of unionist one party misrule in the North of Ireland for 50 years. The constitutional, political and economic structure of the northern state was the context for over 30 years of war and armed struggle.
Citizens in Ireland today continue to live with the legacy of the civil war and northern unionists and nationalists live with the legacy of partition in all its forms.
Although British state policy towards the north throughout and to the present day has remained intrinsically unionist, several British administrations have made significant contributions alongside the work of many in developing the Irish peace process during the last twenty years.
That peace process is now irreversible. The war is over, and the conditions of conflict have been removed.’


‘The immediate challenge as our island emerges from its most recent phase of political conflict is to engage on the development of a reconciliation process in the north, and which addresses the trans generational division and hurt created by the civil war and our political conflicts ever since.’


‘Tonight I want to make the case for the imperative of opening up a new phase in our peace process; that is a phase based on reconciliation and healing.’


‘…Sinn Féin believes it is not only possible but essential that we open a new phase in our process, and facilitate dialogue on how all hurts caused can be equally acknowledged, salved, and if possible healed. And to seek to do this in a spirit of shared compassion, generosity towards one another and recognising our common humanity.
We all need to continue the unfinished journey of our peace process, so that future generations are liberated to explore new possibilities, rather than be burdened with legacies for which they carry no responsibility.’


‘I have characterised the process of national reconciliation in Ireland as involving “uncomfortable conversations”.
These need to take place within and between communities in my country, and as part of that the British state needs to reflect and discuss how to address its responsibilities for the adversity and conflict it perpetuated in Ireland, and between Britain and Ireland.
The republican constituency has begun to discuss the need for national reconciliation. I and other republican leaders have said that means being prepared to move outside our own comfort zones, and being prepared to embrace new thinking.’


‘Earlier this year Republicans across Ireland had a very uncomfortable conversation among ourselves about whether Martin McGuinness should meet Queen Elizabeth. Many disagreed, but many more agreed with doing so – because it was the right thing to do.
And that is fundamentally what reconciliation must be about, doing the right thing; even when faced with impasse and opposition.’
‘This summer political unionism singularly failed to give leadership and say or do the right things to confront sectarianism and the violence which it provoked.
Instead of going out front and forcefully defending the principles of equality and mutual respect the leadership of political unionism and specifically the DUP caved in to the lowest common denominators of sectarian triumphalism.’


‘The Good Friday Agreement has already enshrined the principles of equality, parity of esteem, mutual respect and political coexistence.  It provides a framework within which to find important common ground, if the political will exists to do so.
The Hillsborough Castle Agreement set out key principles in relation to parades, with which the DUP agreed, based upon local people providing local solutions, mutual respect, and the right of all citizens to live free from sectarian harassment.
Sinn Féin is calling for an all inclusive national discussion on reconciliation leading to the development of a national reconciliation strategy.’


‘The refusal of political unionism to engage in this discussion is a mistake, because the alternative is to offer the politics of despair.’


‘Significantly others have gone or remained silent on this issue, most notably the British Government.  Owen Patterson’s precondition of gaining a consensus on the way forward is aimed at pursuing gridlock, by making a demand which cannot be delivered on.
Perhaps the unavoidable and many uncomfortable conversations which the British state needs to have within itself, and the rest of us about its past use of Military Reconnaissance Force counter gangs; Force Research Unit agents; and, present day running of agents in the unionist paramilitaries, and anti peace process militarists, explains its’ silence?
If the British state is not prepared to contribute to truth recovery by owning up to all aspects and consequences of its military, intelligence, and black operations campaign in Ireland, then it must spell out their alternative to an independent, international process. But let’s be clear, that will have to mean everyone’s role in the past being placed on an even playing field.’


‘It requires an enabling programme with a new dynamic.
A useful beginning would be;
–   * The implementation of outstanding elements of the Good Friday, St. Andrews and Hillsborough Castle Agreements;
–   * Committal of the previously agreed £18bn for much needed capital spend projects in the six counties
–   *A disapplication of the Welfare Cuts agenda to the north and the lowering of corporation tax there;
–   * A review of the Barnett Formula and the transfer of fiscal powers to the Executive.
Add to this;
–   * the closure of the NIO,
–   * withdrawal of the British Secretary of State,
–   * the transfer of reserved powers to the Executive, and
–   * the setting of a date for a Border Poll.’


‘Sinn Féin has a vision of an authentic reconciliation process with the capacity to heal divisions within and between diverse communities on the island of Ireland and between our country and Britain.
We aspire to a new phase of the peace process, which allows for the replacement of division with new human and political relationships.
Our ambition is to achieve reconciliation in our time and the beginning of an era in which we all as Republican, unionist, Irish and British citizens can become friends with one another:  a time when our children learn to play and grow up together; and in which, to paraphrase Bobby Sands, the future can echo with their laughter.’


Declan Kearney’s full speech can be found here